ATLANTA -- Kelly Shoppach tapped Chipper Jones with his catcher's mitt as he came to the plate in the seventh inning, preparing for his final regular-season at-bat at Turner Field. "It's been a pleasure," Shoppach told him, before Jones doffed his batting helmet to the 50,635 in attendance.
Later, as the Braves put the finishing touches on a 6-2 defeat of the Mets, the sold-out Turner Field crowd chanted "Thank You Chipper!" in singsong unison. They had watched earlier as their idol stole one last laugh in his nearly two-decade torment of the Mets, making three strong defensive plays in his final regular-season home game.
So it may have been rookie starter Jenrry Mejia who thrust the Mets in an early hole Sunday, but it was Jones who ensured that they would stay there.
Aiming to hand Kris Medlen his first loss as a starting pitcher in more than two years, the Mets instead scored their only early run on Freddie Freeman's throwing error in the third. Otherwise, Medlen was sharp, allowing just three hits in six innings and relying on his defense for the rest.
After receiving a loud pregame ovation, Jones contributed immediately, falling to the ground to glove Ruben Tejada's sharp grounder in the first. Jones then made a diving stop to rob Ike Davis of a hit later in the inning, and swooped to the grass to barehand Mejia's swinging bunt in the third.
"He's great," Mets manager Terry Collins said after the game, with Turner Field's crowd audible even inside his cinder-block office. "I know his legs are probably bothering him at this stage of his career, but he's still an athlete."
Jones also walked and scored in the second inning, singled in the third and -- after a raucous standing ovation preceded his final regular-season plate appearance at Turner Field -- drew another walk in the seventh. Though he entered the game riding an 0-for-21 slump against the Mets, that hardly erased memories of what he had done to them throughout his 19-year career.
In 245 career games, the third baseman hit .309 vs. his division rivals, with 49 home runs, 159 RBIs and 168 runs scored. And those numbers hardly explain it. In part because of his success in Queens over the years, much of it coming in critical spots, Jones decided to name his youngest son Shea.
The Mets received one final taste of that Sunday in what was Chipper's day in Dixie -- and decidedly not Mejia's. The rookie walked the leadoff man in each of his first two innings, then coughed up a three-run homer to backup catcher David Ross in the second. Though Mejia settled down slightly from there, the pair of doubles he served up to Michael Bourn and Jason Heyward in the fifth inning resulted in another run.
In his final appearance of the season, the starter-turned-reliever-turned-starter lasted five innings, giving up four runs on six hits and striking out three.
"I think I threw the ball pretty good," Mejia said. "I had every pitch under control today."
Returning from Tommy John surgery this summer, Mejia may have left the Mets with more questions than answers, pitching well as a starter for Triple-A Buffalo but ultimately struggling during his time with the Mets. The organization will take another hard look at Mejia next spring in its attempt to determine his ultimate fate: rotation or bullpen. Right now the decision-makers are split.
"He was impressive enough to know that he could possibly be a starter," Collins said. "We have to wait until next spring to see where we are, what we need, what kind of depth we have in the rotation. But I could see him starting someplace."
Such was the juxtaposition at Turner Field, where the Mets were focused solely on their future while the playoff-bound Braves took a quick glimpse back at their past. Even Ross' decisive home run had Jones' fingerprints on it, coming after the third baseman walked to start the inning.
"I was trying to get the ball in the air, and I did and it went out," Ross said. "I was running around the bases and the crowd was going crazy. I rounded third and saw Chipper smiling big. It was a lot of fun."
For one side, at least. But that's how it's been for 19 years running.